You're not going to believe what you've been eating the last few years (thanks, Bush! thanks meat industry lobbyists!) when you eat a McDonald's burger (or the hamburger patties in kids' school lunches) or buy conventional ground meat at your supermarket:
According to today's New York Times, The "majority of hamburger" now sold in the U.S. now contains fatty slaughterhouse trimmings "the industry once relegated to pet food and cooking oil," "typically including most of the material from the outer surfaces of the carcass" that contains "larger microbiological populations."
This "nasty pink slime," as one FDA microbiologist called it, is now wrung in a centrifuge to remove the fat, and then treated with AMMONIA to "retard spoilage," and turned into "a mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips".
Thus saving THREE CENTS a pound off production costs. And making the company, Beef Products Inc., a fortune. $440 million/year in revenue. Ain't that something?
And to emphasize: this pink slime isn't just in fast food burgers or free lunches for poor kids:
With the U.S.D.A.’s stamp of approval, the company’s processed beef has become a mainstay in America’s hamburgers. McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food giants use it as a component in ground beef, as do grocery chains. The federal school lunch program used an estimated 5.5 million pounds of the processed beef last year alone.
Bush's U.S.D.A. also allowed these "innovators" to get away with listing the ammonia as "a processing agent" instead of by name. And they also OKd the processing method -- and later exempted the hamburger from routine testing of meat sold to the general public -- strictly based on the company's claims of safety, which were not backed by any independent testing.
Because the ammonia taste was so bad ("It was frozen, but you could still smell ammonia," said Dr. Charles Tant, a Georgia agriculture department official. "I’ve never seen anything like it.") the company started using a less alkaline ammonia treatment, and now we know -- thanks to testing done for the school lunch program -- that the nasty stuff isn't even reliably killing the pathogens.
But government and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.
In July, school lunch officials temporarily banned their hamburger makers from using meat from a Beef Products facility in Kansas because of salmonella — the third suspension in three years, records show. Yet the facility remained approved by the U.S.D.A. for other customers.
Presented by The Times with the school lunch test results, top [U.S.D.A.] department officials said they were not aware of what their colleagues in the lunch program had been finding for years.
The New York Times article today has a rather innocuous headline, "Safety of beef processing method is questioned."
I'd say this quote from the U.S.D.A. department microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, who called the processed beef "pink slime" in a 2002 e-mail message to colleagues, represents the situation better: "I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling."
I've been thinking about an action item on this issue, and I've got three ideas: a. write Michelle Obama through this web form: http://www.whitehouse.gov/... or snail mail: The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500; 2. print out the NY Times article and give it to the manager of your local supermarket, and ask them if they sell any kind of ground beef that doesn't contain this "pink slime" or if their butchers will grind meat fresh for you; 3. just stop buying the damned stuff altogether.